Chapter XI. Edwin Langham
 

Camp was more or less demoralized the next day. Miss Judy overslept and did not blow the rising bugle until nearly noon, so dinner took the place of breakfast and swimming hour came in the middle of the afternoon instead of in the morning.

After swimming hour Agony went up to Miss Amesbury's balcony to return a book she had borrowed. Miss Amesbury was not there, so Agony, as she often did when she found her friend out, sat down to wait for her, passing the time by looking at some sketches tying on the table. Turing these over, Agony came upon a letter thrust in between the drawing sheets, at the sight of which her heart began to flutter wildly. The address on the envelope was in Mary Sylvester's handwriting--there was no mistaking that firm, round hand; it was indelibly impressed upon Agony's mind from seeing it on that other occasion. In a panic she realized that the danger of being discovered was even greater than she had thought, since Mary also wrote to Miss Amesbury. Was it not possible that Mary had mentioned the robin incident in this letter? It now seemed to Agony that Miss Amesbury's manner had been different toward her in the last few days, on the trip. She seemed less friendly, less cordial. Several times Agony had looked up lately to find Miss Amesbury regarding her with a keen, grave scrutiny and a baffling expression on her face. To Agony's tortured fancy these instances became magnified out of all proportion, and the disquieting conviction seized her that Miss Amesbury knew the truth. The thought nearly drove her mad. It tormented her until she realized that there was only one way in which she could still the tumult raging in her bosom, and that was by finding out for certain if Mary had really told.

With shaking fingers she slipped the letter out of the open envelope, and with cheeks aflame with shame at the thing she was doing, she deliberately read Miss Amesbury's letter. It was much like the one Mary had written to Jo Severance, full of clever descriptions of the places she was seeing, and it made no mention either of the robin or of her. With fingers shaking still more at the relief she felt, she put the letter back into the envelope and replaced it between the sketches. Then, trembling from head to foot at the reaction from her panic, she turned her back upon the table and sat up against the railing, holding her head in her hands and looking down at the fair sunlit river with eyes that saw it not.

Miss Amesbury returned by and by and was so evidently pleased to see her that Agony concluded she must have been mistaken in fancying any coldness on her part during the last few days.

"I've a letter from Mary Sylvester," Miss Amesbury said almost at once, "and because you are following so closely in Mary's footsteps I'm going to read it to you." She smiled brightly into Agony's sober face and paused to pat her on the shoulder before she fluttered over the pile of sketches to find the letter.

Agony sat limply, listening to the words she had read a few minutes before, despising herself thoroughly and wishing with all her heart that she had never come to camp. Yet she forced herself to make appreciative comments on the interesting things in the letter and to utter sincere sounding exclamations of surprise at certain points.

"I've something to tell you that will please you," said Miss Amesbury, after the letter had been put away.

"What is it?" asked Agony, looking up inquiringly.

"Someone you admire very much is going to visit Camp," replied Miss Amesbury.

"Who?" Agony's eyes opened up very wide with surprise.

"Edwin Langham. He has been camping not very far from here and he is going to run down on his way home and pay Dr. Grayson a flying visit. They are old friends."

"Edwin Langham?" Agony gasped faintly, her head awhirl. It seemed past comprehension that this man whom she had worshipped as a divinity for so long was actually to materialize in the flesh--that the cherished desire of her life was coming true, that she was going to see and talk with him.

"Goodness, don't look so excited, child," said Miss Amesbury, laughing. "He's only a man. A very rare and wonderful man, however," she added, "and it is a great privilege to know him."

"When is he coming?" asked Agony in a whisper.

"Tomorrow afternoon. He is going to stop off between boats and will be here only a short time."

"Do you suppose he will speak to me?" asked Agony humbly.

"I rather think he will," replied Miss Amesbury, smiling. "You see," she continued, taking Agony's hand in hers as she spoke, "it just happened that Edwin Langham was the man who sat under the tree that time you climbed up and rescued the robin. He was laid up with blood poisoning in his foot at the time and he had been wheeled into the woods from his camp that afternoon. His man had left him for a short time when you happened along. He was the man who told about the incident down at the store at Green's Landing, where Dr. Grayson heard about it later from the storekeeper. Dr. Grayson did not know at the time that it was his friend Edwin Langham who had witnessed the affair, but in the letter Dr. Grayson has just received from Mr. Langham he gives an enthusiastic account of it, and says he is coming to camp partly for the purpose of meeting the girl in the green bloomers who performed that splendid deed that day. So you see, my dear," Miss Amesbury concluded, "I think it is highly probable that you will have an opportunity to speak to your idolized Edwin Langham."

For a moment things turned black before Agony's eyes. She rose unsteadily to her feet and crossed the balcony to the stairs. "I must be going, now," she murmured through dry lips.

"Must you go so soon?" asked Miss Amesbury with a real regret in her voice that cut Agony to the heart.

"Come again, come often," floated after her as she passed through the door.

Agony sped away from camp and hid herself away in the woods, where she sank down at the foot of a great tree and hid her face in her hands. The thing she had desired, had longed for above all others, was now about to come to pass--and she had made it forever an impossibility. The cup of joy that Fate had decreed she was to taste she had dashed to the ground with her own hands. For she could not see Edwin Langham, could not let him see her. As long as he did not see her her secret was safe. He did not know her name, or Mary's, so he could not betray her in that way. Only, if he ever saw her he would know the difference right away, and then would come betrayal and disgrace. There was only one thing to do. She must hide away from him; and give up her opportunity of meeting and talking with him. It was the only way out of the predicament.

When the steamer swung into view around the bend of the river the next afternoon Agony stole away into the thickest part of the woods and proceeded toward a place she had discovered some time before. It was a deep, extremely narrow ravine, so narrow indeed that it was merely a great crock in the earth, not more than six feet across at its widest. It was filled with a wild growth of elderberry bushes, which made it an excellent hiding place. She scrambled down into this pit and crouched under the bushes, completely hidden from view. Here she sat with her head bowed down on her knees, hearing the whistle of the steamer as it neared the dock, and the welcoming song of the girls as the distinguished passenger alighted. A little later it seemed to her that she heard voices calling her name. Yes, it was so, without a doubt. Tiny Armstrong's megaphone voice came echoing on the breeze.

"A-go-ny! A-go-ny! Oh-h-h-h, A--go--ny!"

       *       *       *       *       *

She clenched her hands in silent misery, and did not raise her head. Then the sound of a bark arrested her attention, coming from directly overhead, and she sat up in consternation. Micky, the bull pup belonging to the Camp, had discovered her hiding place and would undoubtedly give her away.

"Go away, Micky!" she commanded in a low tone. At the sound of her voice Micky barked more loudly than ever, a joyous, welcoming bark. Having been much petted by Agony, Micky had grown very fond of her, and seeing her walk off into the woods today, he had followed after her, and now gave loud voice to his satisfaction at finding her.

"Micky! Go away!" commanded Agony a second time, throwing a lump of dirt at him. Micky looked astonished as the dirt flew past his nose, but refused to retire.

"Well, if you won't go away, come down in here, then," said Agony. "Here, Micky, Micky," she called coaxingly.

Micky, clumsy puppy that he was, made a wild leap into the ravine and landed upon the sharp point of a jagged stump, cutting a jagged gash in his shoulder. How he did howl! Agony expected every minute that the whole camp would come running to the spot to find out what the matter was. But fortunately the wind was blowing from the direction of Camp and the sound was carried the other way. Agony worked frantically to get the wound bound up and the poor puppy soothed into silence. At last he lay still, with his head in her lap, licking her hand with his moppy red tongue every few seconds to tell her how grateful he was.

Thus she sat until she heard the deep whistle of the returning steamer and the farewell song of the girls as they stood on the dock and waved goodbye to Edwin Langham. When she was sure that the boat must be out of sight she shoved Micky gently out of her lap and rose to climb out of her hiding place. Her feet were asleep from sitting so long in her cramped position and as she tried to get a foothold on the steep side of the ravine she slipped and fell headlong, striking her head on a stump and twisting her back. It was not until night that they found her, after her continued absence from camp had roused alarm, and searching parties had been made up to scour the woods. Tiny Armstrong, shouting her way through the woods, first heard a muffled bark and then a feeble answer to her call, coming from the direction of the ravine, and charging toward it like a fire engine she discovered the two under the elderberry bushes.

Agony was lifted gently out and laid on the ground to await the coming of an improvised stretcher.

"We hunted and hunted for you this afternoon," said Jo Severance, bending over her with an anxious face. "The poet, Edwin Langham, was here, and he wanted especially to see you, and was dreadfully disappointed when we couldn't find you. He left a book here for you."

"Oh," groaned Agony, and those hearing her thought that she must be in great physical pain.

"How did you happen to fall into that ravine?" asked Jo.

Agony was becoming light headed from the blow on her temple, and she answered in disjointed phrases.

"Didn't fall in--went down--purpose. Micky--fell in--hurt shoulder--I bandaged it--fell trying--to--get--out."

Her voice trailed off weakly toward the end.

"There, don't talk," said Dr. Grayson. "We understand all about it. The dog fell in and hurt himself and you went down after him and then fell in yourself. Being kind to dumb animals again. Noble little girl. We're proud of you."

Agony heard it all as in a dream, but could summon no voice to speak. She was so tired. After all, why not let them think that? It was the best way out. Otherwise they might wonder how she happened to be in the ravine--it would be hard for them to believe that she had fallen into it herself in broad daylight, and it might be embarrassing to answer questions. Let them believe that she had gone down after the dog. That settled the matter once for all.

The stretcher arrived and she was carried to her tent, where Dr. Grayson made a thorough examination of her injuries.

"Not serious," was his verdict, to everybody's immense relief. "Painful bump on the head, but no real damage done, and back strained a little, that's all."

Once more Agony was the camp heroine, and her tent was crowded all day long with admirers. Miss Amesbury sat and read to her by the hour; the camp cook made up special dishes and sent them out on a tray trimmed with wild flowers; the camp orchestra serenaded her daily and nightly, and half a dozen clever camp poets made up songs in her honor. Fame comes easily in camps, and enthusiasm runs high while it lasts.

Agony reflected, in a grimly humorous way, that in the matter of fame she had a sort of Midas touch; everything she did rebounded to her glory, now that the ball was once started rolling. And worst of all was the book that Edwin Langham had left for her, a beautiful copy of "The Desert Garden," bound in limp leather with gold edged leaves. Inside the cover was written in a flowing, beautiful hand:

    "To A.C.W., in memory of a certain day in the woods.
    From one who rejoices in a brave and noble deed.
    Sincerely, Edwin Langham."

On the opposite page was written a quotation which Agony had been familiar with ever since she had become a Winnebago:

    "Love is the joy of service so deep that self is
    forgotten."

She put the book away where she could not see it, but the words had burned themselves into her brain.

    "To A.C.W. From one who rejoices in a brave and noble
    deed."

They mocked her in the dead of night, they taunted her in the light of day. But, like the boy with the fox gnawing at his vitals, Agony continued to smile and make herself agreeable, and no one ever suspected that her gayety was not genuine.